‘The Music Industry Is Going Backwards’

Rapper Wiley speaks out after Ed Sheeran and other white acts top list of the most powerful players on the UK's urban scene

WHEN BBC 1xtra last week named white British singer Ed Sheeran as the ‘most powerful’ artist on the UK’s black and urban music scene, it was inevitable there would be raised eyebrows.

The radio station – a digital subsidiary of BBC Radio 1 – sells itself as the home of ‘new black music’, so it left many confused as to how Sheeran, whose musical style combines elements of folk with hip-hop and grime, could place in pole position.

UK rapper Wiley, known as the Godfather of Grime, called the run-down – which featured two other white acts in the top five – the “saddest list in music history.”

He added: “Not taking anything away from Ed. He is sick. But black artists in England, we are getting bumped... We influence a man and all of a sudden it turns [out] he has influenced us.”

“England’s music industry is backwards.”

In third, Tinie Tempah was the highest placed black artist to feature behind second-placed Disclosure, the white brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, and just ahead of white singer Sam Smith.

Wiley, who scored a No.1 hit with 2012’s Heatwave, ranked 16th out of 20.

A BBC spokesman explained artists were considered on variables such as sales statistics, quality of music and impact across the wider industry. “It is not about the colour of someone’s skin,” he added. Responding to the furore, Sheeran posted: “Listen with ears, not eyes” on his Twitter feed.

Ty, a Mercury Award-nominated UK rapper, told The Voice: “When you see these names, I don’t see them as the most powerful people. I see them as the people who have been elected and chosen as those [stations] are going to play and push.”

Mr Silk, head of programming at Bang Radio, said: “We would want the list to show the rich diverse music that Bang plays on a daily basis not only during the day but through to all the specialist shows currently on air.”

“It does feel like [traditional black] music in its essence is being held back or sidelined on some stations in exchange for other genres but Bang will not be shying away from promoting what we feel ‘street culture' is pushing.”

In a comment piece, music critic Lee Pinkerton said the 1xtra list was simply history repeating itself.

He added: “This phenomenon has been going on for so long they even have a name for it. It’s called ‘Columbus-ing’ – where white people stumble on some cultural practice that black people have been enjoying for years, and can then claim to have created/discovered it, while the mainstream media applauds in agreement and pays tribute with extensive coverage and accolades.”

Michael Hann, The Guardian’s music editor, said his concern about the list – which focused on artists – was not that Ed Sheeran had topped it but that it disguised how ‘white’ the industry actually is.

“If power within the music industry is defined by the ability to determine what you get to hear (or, perhaps more accurately, what you can't avoid hearing), then it's not the artists who would dominate the upper echelons…It would still be record company executives, digital music pioneers, radio programmers, artist managers, radio pluggers and so on,” wrote Hann.

‘CHOSEN FEW’: Rapper Ty said the list is not credible

“It's very possible the most powerful people in the British black music scene are white; it's just very unlikely they are Ed Sheeran and Disclosure.”

But Jade Bradshaw, channel manager of Channel AKA which has helped launch the careers of many urban artists, said the list had proved there was still an appetite for black and urban music.

She added: “I would have liked to see Boy Better Know higher up the list because their fanbase is crazy and they are so influential. But no matter who 1xtra put at number 1 there would have been a debate because there is so much passion.

“It is a reminder to all of us about how much the fans care, how much artists care and how alive our scene really is.”


1. Ed Sheeran
2. Disclosure
3. Tinie Tempah
4. Sam Smith
5. Rudimental
6. Emeli Sande
7. Naughty Boy
8. Katy B
9. Krept & Konan
10. Fuse ODG
11. Boy Better Know
12. Rita Ora
13. Lethal Bizzle
14. DJ Fresh
15. Jessie J
16. Wiley
17. Giggs
18. Laura Mvula
19. Wretch
20. Dizzee Rascal